Tentative (first three chapters)

When fast-talking, witty and beautiful N asks an impossible question before falling asleep on Estrella's shoulder during a Model Government conference, Ella realises two things: one, they look impossibly similar; and two, N is the girl that she would very much like to be. Cue road trip, love triangle, and all the wonderful things that make up teen fiction— but teen fiction with a twist.

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2. 2

The German cabinet I was in consisted of ten or twelve of us sitting in a U formation, with the chair at the head of the table. Our chair was the man from the opening ceremony— up close, his long eyelashes, curly blond hair and blue eyes were even more stunning. To my astonishment, it didn’t seem as if any of the other girls were paying him much attention: there was a serious American with a stiff white-collared shirt and two Tunisians who already knew each other, but they were sitting very straight and typing intently on their laptops. I chewed my way through a handful of the conference mints and subtly scanned the rest of the cabinet: a Dubai boy with thick black eyeliner, a boy called Alexander from the British delegation my friends had been lusting after, and some others with slightly Slavic accents.

Our chair opened the session and we introduced ourselves, negotiating our unspoken places in the order of who was most respected. It was so political, the vying for priority to speak, and I fell into the unwanted role of secretary because I didn’t have the willpower to make a play for power.

We passed a few resolutions fairly effortlessly, voting unanimously. Suddenly, our chair rapped the table three times with his gavel and called for silence in a hushed voice. He announced breaking news that had just emerged: nuclear reactors were spewing toxic substances all over mainland Europe and the affected cabinets would need to combine to reassure the public and contain the damage.

A keen little kid from Delhi ordered me to collaborate with the Italians to release a press statement about the reactor on our border. I shrugged and looked around for someone with a Italian nametag, but no one made eye contact; vulnerable and excluded, I swallowed two more packets of mints before the Indian boy sighed and called over a girl standing on the other side of the room.

“Press release,” he said, his lilting voice high and thin. “Submit it to the chair when you’re done.” I was surprised to see that my partner was the girl from the opening ceremony the night before. Her dress was lilac-coloured and her hair a mess; loose around her shoulders with a single clip half-heartedly restraining some of the auburn curls at the front. She looked half asleep, with the faint smudged outline of a pen doodle printed on her cheek.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m—”

“Estrella.” The girl squinted slightly to read my nametag. Her pure green eyes made my sister Hallie’s hazel eyes look dull brown in comparison.

“Actually, it’s Eh-STRAY-ah,” I corrected her, offering by way of explanation, “It’s Spanish.”

 “Estrella.” The girl smiled, pronouncing it perfectly. “You’re right; it’s much prettier that way. Kind of like a stray Australian cat. But pretty. I’m N,” she said.

People surged purposefully around us, and there were no seats left, so we sat down on the floor by the window. I pulled out a conference pen and some paper, ready to start drafting notes about the nuclear reactor crisis. N arched her back in a beautiful feline yawn, scrunching her hair up against the wall.

 “What does an atom feel like when it dies?” Before I could process her question, N’s dark green eyes were closed and her head was resting on my shoulder. I started to work on the draft release, trying not to move my arm and ignoring the curls floating in my peripheral vision. After half a paragraph, my words disintegrated into spiral curlicues and doodles of atomic structure.

 

At noon our chairperson called for a recess and N woke herself up instantly, slipping out of the room with a suggestive wink at the German chair. I wanted to follow her but Monica caught my arm and invited me to Starbucks. The elevator stopped on the second floor to let in two boys talking loudly about the financial state of Europe.

“Ah,” one of them said said, excitement thickening the Slavic in his accent. “Our minister for Justice. What do you think about letting Croatia join the EU?”

I stared at him blankly. Over his shoulder I glimpsed a tangle of reddish curls; a boy I recognized from the French Cabinet pulled N into his room,  grinning widely, one hand on the small of her back and the other wrapped around her wrist. N still looked half-asleep as the door shut behind them.

 “I don’t really care,” I muttered to the closing steel doors. The German minister looked shocked.

 “But surely you see that, as a Balkan nation, Croatia would…” I let him drone on for three more floors before excusing myself. It took me three times to get the key card to open our door. My mind was a thousand places at once— here’s our minister for justice, actually it’s Eh-STRAY-ah, what does an atom feel like when it dies— but it was mostly on the second floor with N.

Monica rushed to the revolving lobby door when she spotted me coming out of the lift. “Come on,” she moaned, “I’m desperately in need of caffeine. Laugh all you want, just take me to Starbucks.”

 “Lucky thing we don’t all have such highly-strung personalities,” Marcus laughed as we walked out on the red carpet and onto the highway. “How do you like the conference?”

“It’s alright,” I shrugged. “Everyone knows each other already, and it’s only been two days—I can barely remember the names of the people in my cabinet. I suspect that they all continue networking in their sleep.”

 “And Louise, are you enjoying yourself next to those English lads with the posh accents?”

Louise swooned, pressing the back of her hand to her forehead. “Raoul, Edmund, and Nikolai. They’re perfect. I’m going to marry them all.”

“I actually literally saw Raoul smile at me in the hall,” Monica exclaimed. “I was on my way to the bathroom when—”

 “How’s your cabinet, Marcus?” I interrupted as the light turned green.

“Italy? Pretty dull, but we’ve got that girl from the Lycée Balien. The one I pointed out to you the first night? she’s Paris, too. She doesn’t really say much, as Minister of the Environment she doesn’t have to, but she’s priceless entertainment.”

Marcus told us how the Italian Minister of the Interior, a large girl from Atlanta with a temper shorter than her skirt, had repeatedly reminded N throughout the morning sessions that “ministers do not use personal pronouns”. After the fifth scolding, N had muttered “fuck you”. The room descended into chaos: the chair banged his gavel on the table, while the Minister of the Interior shouted heatedly, “That’s exactly the type of unacceptable use of pronouns this delegate was referring to!” Once order had been restored, N had laid her head down on her stack of papers and gone back to sleep.

“She shouldn’t be here if she’s not going to take it seriously,” Monica frowned. “Parli pro is there for a reason.”

“Can’t you just call it parliamentary procedure, or better yet, call it nothing at all?” Louise pleaded.

“N’s quite something,” chuckled Marcus, pushing open the door to Starbucks. The Qatari delegation was already there, and we talked to them while we waited in line. We ordered frappucinos when we got to the front of the queue and used the wifi, but there was still half an hour before conferences when we got back to the hotel.

Louise was bit her lip and glanced around; when we spotted the British boys she forced me to approach them and to begin a conversation. It was more awkward than it should have been, because I was distracted by Monica and Louise’s nervous pivoting on their heels.

ESTRELLA: Hi. So, what school are you from?

BOYS: Harrow.

ESTRELLA: Yarrow? Is that an international school?

BOYS look at ESTRELLA in disgust; LOUISE and MONICA drag ESTRELLA away.

Apparently Harrow was the second-most prestigious public school in Britain: definitely not an international school. Monica and Louise weren’t ready to give up, so we started a conversation with another group of Harrow boys which ended with them inviting us to a club that night. Louise was pink with pleasure as she and Monica searched for our chaperones. I was surprised at Monica’s enthusiasm; she tended to prefer books to boys unless they happened to be highly intellectual or write poetry.

 Mr Lucas’ new young Brazilian teacher friend had mentioned that her delegation was going to be at the same club, so he was in favour of the idea. Mrs Patterson had other plans: a table for twelve at the hotel restaurant. Monica pleaded; Louise pleaded; Mr Lucas tried to sway her, but she was insistent:  at eight o’clock, ten gloomy teenagers ordered ridiculously expensive pizzas from a five-star menu.

“Isn’t this nice?” beamed Mrs Patterson, but Monica and Louise, slicing listlessly at their pizzas and fantasizing about boys in tailored suits, couldn’t bring themselves to answer.

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